Police Role in Disappearance of Salvadoran Student Activist Raises Concerns

  More than 500 students aligned with the Revolutionary Brigade of Salvadoran Students (BRES) shut down streets surrounding El Salvador’s National University to decry the disappearance of Francisco Contreras, 21, who they claim was taken off of a bus by Homocide Division Police, but hasn’t been heard from since.

Students say that Contreras’ case is evidence that forced disappearances have not ended in El Salvador. Contreras, who is an activist with the Popular Youth Bloc (BPJ), was on his way home from school, when the bus in which he was riding was reportedly stopped by Homocide Police on the Santa Tecla-Lourdes Colon Highway. Contreras was taken off the bus by police, who have yet to confirm his capture publicly.

The arrest has sparked fears that a return to El Salvador’s not-so-recent death squad past could be close by. Those fears were stoked a week ago, when the United Nations Office on Forced Disappearances issued a new statement on El Salvador which declared that disappearances are still common. The report referred to the “continued and permanent nature of the crime in question,” and that in El Salvador forced disappearances were, “not a thing of the past.”

Last Friday’s student protest created a cordon around the University that mimicked a similar cordon established by police after the events of July 5th of 2006. A protest against bus fare and electricity rate hikes on that day turned violent and two police were shot dead. For days afterward, police secured a perimeter around the campus, shutting off traffic to the usually busy intersection. Students copied that strategy in the interest of gaining more attention for the Contreras case.